The Evolution & Medicine Review

The $5000 Gilbert Omenn Prize for the best article in the area of evolution, medicine and public health published in 2022 in any journal is awarded by the International Society for Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health to:
The evolution of spectrum in antibiotics and bacteriocins by Palmer, J. D., & Foster, K. R. . Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences119(38), e220540711(2022).

The first author,  Jacob D. Palmer, pictured, will present the work at ISEMPH 2024. 


Antibiotics, like penicillin, treat a wide range of infections. This broad-spectrum of activity has its evolutionary roots in microbial warfare, where antibiotics can provide a competitive edge. But bacteria also make narrow-spectrum toxins, which presents a puzzle: Why not use broad-spectrum toxins to target more competitors? Using evolutionary modelling, we show that narrow-spectrum toxins help focus an attack on a key competitor, minimizing toxin loss to other targets. Broad-spectrum attacks only make sense when a microbe is abundant and can make a lot of toxin. We survey available data and find, as predicted, that broad-spectrum toxins are typically made by bacteria at high abundance. This suggests that antibiotics evolved in dominant microbes that could afford to take on diverse competitors.

The Prize Committee also awarded Honorable Mention to: Two modes of evolution shape bacterial strain diversity in the mammalian gut for thousands of generations, by Frazão, N., Konrad, A., Amicone, M., Seixas, E., Güleresi, D., Lässig, M., & Gordo, I. (2022).  Nature Communications13(1), 5604.

ISEMPH thanks this year’s prize committee chair Caleb Finch, Committee members Koos Boomsma, Raghavendra Gadagkar, Steve Austad, Connie Mulligan, and Carol Worthman. The prize is made possible by Gilbert S. Omenn.